Acts of Kindness: Spreading Kindness at Pearcy Elementary Through ‘Wonder’ Novel

“When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”

These words, a precept from the middle grade novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio, have become part of the everyday language at Pearcy Elementary School this year. With its varied character perspectives and memorable precepts and quotes, Pearcy principal Codi Van Duzee felt the story was one that her students could relate to, and she recognized an opportunity to begin a campus-wide discussion that would build character, create respect, and encourage kindness among everyone.

“We not only teach academic subjects, we are absolutely committed to building the whole child,” Van Duzee said. “We really strategize and intentionally build strong relationships with our students.”

Published in 2012 and being released as a feature film on November 17, Wonder is the story of August “Auggie” Pullman, a boy with a facial deformity who experiences friendship, bullying, kindness, and self-discovery when he leaves homeschooling for Beecher Prep at the beginning of 5th grade.

After receiving a copy of Wonder from school librarian Melissa Forsythe in the spring, Van Duzee was so inspired by the story’s message of kindness that she obtained copies for all of her faculty and staff. Once they all read and discussed the book, classroom sets were obtained for all 3rd through 6th grade classes through a Donors Choose campaign. Copies of the companion picture book We’re All Wonders, were purchased for the kindergarten through 2nd grade classrooms. Teachers chose how to implement the text in their classrooms, and the entire school has been tasked with reading the book by Thanksgiving.

“There’s a common language felt throughout the school,” Van Duzee said, when asked about the impact of the project. “We want our kids to recognize that our differences make us unique and special. Everyone deserves respect and kindness.”

Pearcy is holding pep rallies every six weeks to introduce and discuss character traits found in the text, and students and staff are being recognized regularly for exhibiting those traits. The Pearcy t-shirt for this year says “Choose Kind,” and the school’s Facebook page and library Twitter feed are filling up with posts featuring #choosekind and #pearcyproud hashtags.

Van Duzee credits her entire staff for the success of the project, and plans to celebrate their efforts with a faculty and staff family movie night when the film opens. Her hope is that she can rent a theater and her staff can then buy tickets for themselves and their families to come and enjoy the movie together. Once the DVD version is available, Van Duzee wants to get a copy for the school and show the film for a student and family movie night.

While teaching kindness and other positive character traits has an impact on the students while they are at Pearcy, Van Duzee also sees these efforts as an investment that will last beyond their time in school.

“We really want to support the community and recognize that our students are Arlington residents. We want [our students] to know that we care, and that character matters.”

 The City of Arlington is spotlighting acts of kindness happening throughout our community as part of its Kindness Initiative, which launched earlier this year. Mayor Jeff Williams has challenged residents to report acts of kindness through the City’s free Ask Arlington mobile app, on the Acts of Kindness website, or by posting using #ArlingtonKindness and @CityofArlington over the next year.

Arlington, which is also participating in the #ChooseKind City initiative, encourages residents and visitors to participate in acts of kindness this week leading up to World Kindness Day on Monday, November 13.

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